With unexpected backgrounds, these emerging creatives prove there’s nothing predictable about their careers–or styles.
Houston | benjamin-johnston.com
WHY WE LOVE HIM: Trained architect Benjamin Johnston has traveled to more than 50 countries, informing his distinct blend of maximalism and minimalism. Architectural details and eclecticism define many of the spaces he designs.
ON THE HORIZON: Johnston’s success is taking him beyond the U.S. He currently has projects throughout North America–from Mexico to Canada.
IN HIS WORDS: “Inspiration comes from everywhere: the location and architecture of the project, the client’s style and their collections, and also, my treasured books featuring work from Billy Baldwin, Tony Duquette, Thomas Pheasant and Jean-Louis Deniot. I like to begin with immersing myself in a loose creative storm, and then I let the story crystallize from there.”
PHOTO: JULIE SOEFER
FORBES + MASTERS
Atlanta | forbesmasters.com
WHY WE LOVE THEM: The young duo behind this firm hit it off while working together on a commercial project and realized their combined skills–Tavia Forbes’ business background and Monet Masters’ design training–made the perfect match. Today, their firm delivers glam, edgy interiors with custom touches–think wall murals hand-painted by the designers themselves.
ON THE HORIZON: Forbes and Masters are in the process of filming a television show, Design Demystified, focused on interiors for DIYers. They’re also heading south to work on a project in Barbados soon.
IN THEIR WORDS: “Our personal design style can be summarized as ‘the element of surprise.’ It’s not a certain look or genre; it’s bold, moody, layered, textured, custom and fresh. We’ve been called ‘the masters of mood’ by default.”
PHOTO: KIMBERLY MURRAY PHOTOGRAPHY
New York | rightmeetsleftdesign.com
WHY WE LOVE HER: After working in real estate private equity for 15 years, Courtney McLeod left Wall Street to pursue her childhood dream of designing homes. Her background in finance provides a solid foundation for her practice, which prides itself on investing clients’ money wisely, while fashioning interiors with an edge.
ON THE HORIZON: McLeod’s long list of projects for 2019 includes a Chelsea loft, a prewar apartment on West End Avenue, a pied-a-terre on the Brooklyn waterfront, a quaint 1880s-era Colonial in the Hudson Valley and a client’s vacation home in Antigua.
IN HER WORDS: “My design style is rooted in the pursuit of joy. I utilize my kaleidoscopic toolbox of texture, color and pattern to create playfully elegant interiors.”
PHOTO: JOHN DOLAN PHOTOGRAPHY
Portland | pennyblackinteriors.com
WHY WE LOVE HIM: Stewart Horner was a design director at Nike until age 47 when he decided to reinvent himself and establish Penny Black Interiors. His projects are all unique–spanning styles from midcentury modern and very refined to rock star chic. For example, he may place a traditional wingback chair upholstered in a neon graffiti-like textile in an otherwise monochromatic room.
ON THE HORIZON: In addition to creating a line of furniture and home goods, Horner is working on a remodel of a 1960s traditional ranch in the west hills of Portland and a 1940s Spanish cottage in Los Angeles–his first out-of-state project.
IN HIS WORDS: “I have evolved my approach over the years from trying to deliver shock and awe to taking calculated risks. My hope is to surprise and delight my clients with a design that surpasses their needs while indulging them in a dream-like environment.”
PHOTO: CHRIS DIBBLE
Houston | gindesigngroup.com
WHY WE LOVE HER: Gin Braverman had past lives as a hospital intern, production assistant, set designer, English teacher and industrial designer. It wasn’t until she worked on an HGTV home remodel show that she finally found her way to design. Braverman’s well-rounded background and willingness to take risks attracts a diverse set of clientele.
ON THE HORIZON: Amidst the massive economic growth of her home city, Braverman’s team has a lot lined up for 2019, including the Cypress Circle Café at the Houston Zoo, a lakefront residence, a Hill Country boutique hotel and many projects in the culinary space.
IN HER WORDS: “Our design is highly experiential. We try to make things fun and thoughtful by envisioning the end use of the space and all of the ‘Instagrammable’ moments throughout. We listen to the clients’ vision, then try to push them a little
bit out of their comfort zone.”
PHOTO: JULIE SOEFER
Miami | lightonwhite.com
WHY WE LOVE HER: An alum of Philippe Starck’s architecture firm, Paris-born Alizee Brion established her own firm in 2016. Her sophisticated style has caught the attention of an international set of clients who call on her to design the interiors of not only their homes, but also their yachts and, in one case, a castle in Tuscany.
ON THE HORIZON: Her biggest projects of the year are a 10,000-square-foot beachfront home on Fisher Island and an 82-foot catamaran that features a swimming pool on the front deck.
IN HER WORDS: “I approach every design project first with pencil and paper. I find it is the quickest way to move around from plan to elevation to perspective–this is the way I explore the space in all dimensions.”
PHOTO: NATHALIE PRIEM
New York | mikelwelch.com
WHY WE LOVE HIM: Mikel Welch discovered his passion for design while walking through a shopping mall on his lunch break from a retail job. To get his start, he offered pro bono design services on Craigslist to build a portfolio. He is an accomplished set designer–most notably, for the Steve Harvey Show. He has also designed green rooms for the likes of Michelle Obama, Oprah, Joan Rivers and Halle Berry.
ON THE HORIZON: In the spring, Welch will begin a new role as a featured designer on the second season of the Trading Spaces reboot on TLC.
IN HIS WORDS: “I am a huge fan of aged and weathered objects paired with current design trends, so I coined my new design style as ‘primitive modern.’ I love to scour vintage shops looking for perfectly imperfect items, and typically, the more imperfections, the better.”
PHOTO: MARCEL PAGE PHOTOGRAPHY
San Francisco | hsh-interiors.com
WHY WE LOVE HER: After a brief detour in investment banking and consulting, Holly Hollenbeck followed her nose for vintage finds and showstopping lighting, into the design industry. The designer is a big proponent of using technology throughout the design process, utilizing three-dimensional renderings whenever possible. She recently opened a shop on Clement Street and an e-commerce site, representing 15 home design brands.
ON THE HORIZON: Hollenbeck is working alongside Carney Logan Burke Architects on a new home in Wilson, Wyoming. Situated on 35 acres, the job entails developing plans for a main house, two guest homes and a party barn.
IN HER WORDS: “Everything I see and do is grist for the creative mill. I am a voracious consumer of imagery from design, travel and fashion magazines, and I also keep a large library of inspirational books.”
PHOTO: SUZANNA SCOTT
San Francisco | cynthiaspencedesign.com
WHY WE LOVE HER: Cynthia Spence’s designs feel layered and collected. Years of business experience in technology and entertainment inform her ability to seamlessly integrate technology into warm and natural spaces.
ON THE HORIZON: Spence’s first two projects of 2019 are in Saratoga and Belmont, California. In the former, she designed the house almost entirely around a beautiful tree.
IN HER WORDS: “The Bay Area’s topography and seasonal climate allow us to draw inspiration based on the movements happening in our backyard. I like the art of mixing–it adds personality and a je ne sais quoi that truly brings out the clients’ ethos.”
Nashville | crowellinteriors.com
WHY WE LOVE HER: Trained photographer Hannah Crowell is a Nashville-native with country roots and a southern soul–her grandfather was Johnny Cash. Her quirky personality lends itself to creating unexpected moments in the spaces she designs, like the human anatomy model she has in her own home.
ON THE HORIZON: Crowell is working with the Virgin Hotel in Nashville to design a private club, separate from the hotel, featuring an intimate, speakeasy vibe. She’s also renovating a sleepy 16-room motel on Anna Maria Island in Florida.
IN HER WORDS: “For lack of a better description, I tend to call my style ‘modern bohemian.’ I love contemporary design and clean lines, but I also want spaces to be personal and lived in and full of character.”
PHOTO: CAROLINE ALLISON
Chicago | alexandrakaehler.com
WHY WE LOVE HER: Alexandra Kaehler, a former advertising exec-turned-lifestyle blogger-turned-interior designer, has an affinity for the details and old bones of a home. She adds her contemporary spin to projects by giving them a feminine face-lift.
ON THE HORIZON: Kaehler is renovating a 100-year-old residence in the suburbs of Chicago, a young, fun condo in Chicago and a beach house in Michigan.
IN HER WORDS: “I love to combine old and new, masculine and feminine, round and square–opposites always attract.”
PHOTO: JULIA BRENNER
Chicago | projectinteriors.com
WHY WE LOVE HER: As the leader of her self-described “design tribe,” Aimee Wertepny makes it her mission to shake things up and cultivate a new type of design firm. Grounded by a serious dedication to philanthropic work both locally and globally, Wertepny’s mantra is “make design matter.”
ON THE HORIZON: Project Interiors is working on a collaboration with Marmol Radziner, a Los Angeles-based design-build practice led by architects, and a tiki-inspired home on Florida’s Marco Island. The firm also plans to travel to Nepal in March to build a community school in a rural village with non-profit buildOn.
IN HER WORDS: “My style is an organic, glam mash-up of tribal, deconstructed, fringed, textured and layered love. Mostly monochromatic and clean-lined interiors, laden with collectibles from travels abroad. I like using floor coverings as upholstery and vintage clothing as accent pillows–exploring ways to infuse the unexpected.”
PHOTO: CYNTHIA KIM
Los Angeles | lindsaychambers.com
WHY WE LOVE HER: Award-winning entrepreneur Lindsay Chambers holds a certificate from Stanford Business School’s Executive Program for Women Leaders. Her spaces are bathed in natural light and have a casual, approachable aura to them, while maintaining sophistication.
ON THE HORIZON: Chambers is completing her largest project to date in 2019: the furnishings and interior and exterior architectural finishes for a 9,300-square-foot warm contemporary home complete with an indoor pool and a full private spa.
IN HER WORDS: “I bring a San Francisco aesthetic–cultivated during the time my practice was based in Palo Alto–to Los Angeles, so my work ends up looking quite different than a lot of other design work I see in the area.”
PHOTO: ROGER DAVIES
JON DE LA CRUZ
San Francisco | dlcid.com
WHY WE LOVE HIM: First-generation American Jon de la Cruz studied marine biology in school, but shifted gears after a challenging chemistry class. Jobs at rigorous, traditional design firms provided him with a springboard to develop his own style, which leans toward bold, unexpected spaces, like the auto body shop-turned-hit restaurant Che Fico.
ON THE HORIZON: His firm is working on a number of ground-up projects in California and one in Hawaii, as well as a few restaurants throughout the country.
IN HIS WORDS: “Many international design students come through the Bay Area and I actively recruit them as interns not only to help nurture their careers but to also expose my team to different points of view. Every person is unique; every home is unique. We can’t serve our clients if we all have the same background, training and point of view.”
PHOTO: JOHN LEE PICTURES
Los Angeles | alexanderdb.com
WHY WE LOVE HER: Vanessa Alexander’s background in the entertainment industry is quite apparent in her interiors, which are Hollywood-chic and glamorous. Visually, you can imagine her spaces being home to the coolest and edgiest of rock stars, artists and producers.
ON THE HORIZON: The designer is working on a major restoration and remodel of a Mexican modern Ricardo Legorreta residence in Los Angeles, as well as home projects, creative spaces and restaurants in New York and Miami.
IN HER WORDS: “Whether we are working in California, New York, Miami, or beyond, we reference the surroundings and generally seek to create a connection with an indoor-outdoor lifestyle and the beauty of the environment. Stylistically, regardless of the aesthetic that we are creating, there is inherently a modernity based on open spaces, great amounts of light and a flow from one room to the other, and to the outside.”